Watershed

Credit JEFF ST. CLAIR / WKSU

June 2019 marks the anniversary of a powerful moment in the American environmental movement.  50 years ago, Time Magazine included a story about how the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland had caught on fire.  This was not the first time that the river had burned.  In fact, it had happened numerous times over a number of years.  However, this was really the first time the story had been elevated to the national spotlight.  It proved to be a turning point in the way this country thinks about the environment.

There is no known photo of the actual 1969 fire. This photo was taken after the blaze was extinguished.
Credit CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY/PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION

WKSU News marks the 50th anniversary with the series, Watershed.  The stories dig into current state of not just the Cuyahoga, but two other Northeast Ohio rivers with industrial legacies, the Ashtabula and the Black, and the body of water that ties them all together, Lake Erie. We also look at how the restoration of the Cuyahoga has led to competition between recreation and industry for its use, how a photo helped spur on an environmental movement and whether there’s a new generation to carry on the same spirit of environmental stewardship that was born 50 years ago.

 

photo of student climate protest in Cleveland
CHLOE FRIEDLAND

Fifty years ago a burning river mobilized a generation of environmental activism. Citizens pushed for new laws to regulate pollution, and our water and air has gotten cleaner.

But significant environmental challenges remain including climate change, habitat loss, and plastics pollution.

Our series Watershed looks at today’s environmental warriors and the road ahead.

Arrye Rosser opens a 1969 issue of Time Magazine that shined a spotlight on the Cuyahoga River.
Mark Arehart / WKSU

When the Cuyahoga River caught fire 50 years ago it helped spark an environmental movement in America. However, there was little coverage at the time and no known photographic evidence of the actual blaze.

A photo that appeared in a 1969 Time Magazine article is often attributed to the fire.

For our latest story in our series Watershed, a look at the power of photography and how it’s shaped our understanding of the burning river.

photo of Lake Erie tugboat
KABIR BHATIA / WKSU

Over the past 50 years, freight traffic on the lower Cuyahoga River has increasingly competed with smaller watercraft as the river has rebounded to become a recreation channel. Watershed is a series looking at our waterways and what the future holds for them. This installment looks at one river, competing interests.

a photo of Joy Mulinex
SARAH TAYLOR / WKSU

The Cuyahoga River and many other Northern Ohio streams and rivers are part of the Lake Erie Watershed, which encompasses 33 of Ohio's 88 counties, or more than one-third of the state. The lake provides drinking water to millions of people.

This week our series "Watershed" is taking a closer look at Lake Erie.

a photo of a sailbot on Lake Erie
CLAIRE TAYLOR / WKSU

In the early 1970s there was a cooperative effort between the United States and Canada to lower the amount of pollutants entering the Great Lakes. 

Around that same time a young northeast Ohio native was beginning a four-decade career at Ohio State University focused on cleaning up Lake Erie. 

Ashtabula harbor
JEFF ST.CLAIR / WKSU

Rivers in northern Ohio have long been conduits of industry, linking onshore factories to Great Lakes shipping and beyond.

This industrial legacy spurred economic growth, but it also left the region’s waterways poisoned by unregulated pollution.

And one of the hardest hit rivers was the Ashtabula, in Ohio’s far northeast corner.

In this installment of our series Watershed, WKSU’s Jeff St. Clair reports the cleanup of the Ashtabula took decades of dedication by citizens and became a model for environmental cooperation.

a photo of a sailboat
JEFF ST.CLAIR / WKSU

Ohio’s urban waterways were once seen as common sewers for industry and growing populations.

But a fire in 1969 on the Cuyahoga River sparked new ideas of how a river can serve its region.

In kicking off our series, Watershed, WKSU is examining three Northeast Ohio rivers, and the relationships they have with the communities that rely on them.

photo of Cuyahoga River
KABIR BHATIA / WKSU

Fifty years ago, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. And it really didn’t become a big deal nationally until more than a month later when Time magazine ran an article on the fire.

Fifty years later, the river has rebounded. Watershed is a series from WKSU News looking at our waterways and what the future holds for them. In our opening story, we take a look at the current state of “the burning river.”

photo of Doctor Joseph Ortiz
/ KENT STATE UNIVERSITY

Trained in Aquatic Biology and Oceanography, Joseph Ortiz is a Professor of Geology at Kent State University.  His research takes him all over the world as he attempts to "unravel climate mysteries."  As a companion piece to our Watershed news series starting June 24, 2019, he talked with us about the current conditions of Lake Erie, from the algae blooms in the western part of the la

a photo of the Cuyahoga River near downtown Cleveland
CHARLES GUNDERMAN

Starting on June 24, WKSU will begin a series of reports looking at the state of our local waterways including the Cuyahoga, Ashtabula, and Black Rivers as well as Lake Erie. As we prepared these reports, we asked listeners to share their memories of the time 50 years ago when the Cuyahoga River burned. You'll hear their recollections on air all week, and you can check them out here as well.  

photo of 1952 Cuyahoga River fire
CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY/PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION

Water isn’t supposed to burn.

The burning river showed us otherwise.